Space: 1999 “Breakaway” (part 3 of 6)
Koenig looks around Russell’s nearly empty office, and decides to play with her microscope. He identifies it as the same model used by Marie Curie. On the one hand, it’s pretty impressive he knows that. On the other hand, dude’s about to break a 112-year-old microscope.
Koenig asks when the astronauts will recover from the Meta probe virus. Russell replies that it’s not a virus. This leads to dialogue that, once again, needs to be heard to be truly experienced:
Koenig: So, they’re not going to recover.
Russell: [Stares in silence because someone forgot to push the play button.]
Russell takes Koenig over to a fairly advanced-looking desktop computer, assuming you consider the Commodore PET to be advanced-looking. It appears someone has busted out the screen and replaced it with an Okudagram of a person’s head. There’s a huge, red spot in the guy’s brain. I’m no doctor, but I would give this guy nineteen seconds to live.
The Commander and the Doctor then have a very boring conversation, where not only do they repeat everything they’ve already told us, but they wait two seconds between each line. I’ve been on conference calls with people in Australia that had a shorter delay.
The upshot is that the Meta astronauts are sick with brain tumors. The backup astronauts aren’t sick, even though they’ve done all the same things that the primary crew has done. So it stands to reason that they’ll be getting their brain tumors any minute now, everybody will die, and Meta will not get the probing it so richly deserves.
So, how would your favorite sci-fi hero react to this news? Kirk would go ahead with the mission anyway. John Chrichton would make an insane speech about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and go ahead with the mission anyway. And Starbuck would punch Apollo, then have sex with him, then punch him again, then cry—all while going ahead with the mission anyway.
Koenig tries about five different ways to get Russell to ground the mission so he doesn’t have to. She won’t. “The risks are great,” she deadpans, in a manner not unlike a dead pan. “The decision is yours.” Testify, sister.
Russell takes Koenig to see the astronauts, who are on beds in some kind of isolation chamber. Even for guys with huge brain tumors, they do not look good. Koenig just stares at them silently in a scene lasting, I kid you not, a minute and a half. It’s ninety seconds of Martin Landau looking thoughtful in three-quarters profile. My advice: if you have taxes, now would be a good time to do them.
Koenig wanders into someplace that isn’t Main Mission, to talk to a guy named Carter. I’m not sure what Carter’s actual job is on Alpha. Whenever they need somebody to do something, Carter does it. At the moment, he appears to be Director of Stuff Having to Do with the Meta Probe.
Carter wants to start the countdown immediately. “Every hour’s delay only reduces our chances of success!” If Meta is coming towards them, wouldn’t every hour’s delay make the trip shorter and easier? I don’t know. That’s the question I blew in my Director of Stuff Having to Do with the Meta Probe interview.
Turning his back on Carter, Koenig asks how long it would take to get the backup crew ready. Carter answers, “Seven days.” Suh… what? Seven days? Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of having a backup crew in the first place? That would be like the Mets having to drive their relief pitchers in from Albany. “Santana’s had it. Nieve’ll be here in two or three hours, depending on traffic.”
Carter abruptly shifts gears. He claims that the backup crew can’t be made ready in any amount of time. “We can’t do it: calculations, coordinates.” I have to admit, calculations and coordinates are great reasons not to use the backup crew. Interestingly, they’re also great reasons not to send anyone in the first place.
Koenig doesn’t have time for explanations, however. “All I want to know is, crew excepted, are you ready to go?” I mean, with the exception of the men, are we ready to send the men?
Koenig retires to his office, which is big enough to hold a square dance. He stares blankly at nothing for a couple of minutes. You’ve heard of negative space? This episode pioneers the concept of negative time.
Commissioner Simmons pops up on Koenig’s viewscreen to tell us things we already know. And Koenig’s screen is also a ten inch black and white television. Unlike a certain show depicting a certain trek, Space: 1999 did all the computer and video screens as in-camera practical effects. This is good because, really, what the hell was Spock looking at, anyway? But it’s bad, in that they were limited by the technology that actually existed in 1973. And it turns out that TV sets in 1973 were really not that great.
Here, we learn that nine men have died. Simmons dismisses the theory of radiation poisoning, but I’m not sure how a virus infection would make the situation any better.
Simmons wants to send up a team of “top” medical people. So it would seem that when they sent up Dr. Russell, they were holding back. Now that things have gotten serious, they’ve decided that their manned lunar base requires qualified physicians.
Koenig wants to figure out whether the nuclear waste is leaking radiation, and asks Simmons to stop sending up more waste for the time being. Simmons goes nuts. “Atomic waste disposal is one of the biggest problems of our time!” Yes, but is it one of the biggest problems of the next three days?
Koenig offers a trade. If Simmons stops sending spent fuel rods, Koenig will get the Meta probe launched. Dude, it’s your job to get the Meta probe launched! The only reason you’re on the moon in the first place is to get the Meta probe launched! How did you even arrive at the conclusion that you had a choice in the matter?
But Simmons doesn’t just raise him, he goes all in:
Yeah, just remember that. The entire moon is being run like a Ladies’ Auxiliary investment club. If they read one negative word in People magazine, they’ll dump all their moon stock and sink their money into fourteen shares of Disney, a put option on orange futures, and three commemorative Olympic coins.
The transmission ends and Koenig broods for a few seconds. Then he walks a few paces and broods some more. Then he pushes a button to talk to Paul. I have absolutely no idea what Paul’s actual job is, but I do know two things: (1) When Koenig first calls him, he’s caught on screen hitting on some girl; and (2) he has an extraordinary porn star mustache. Consequently, I will be calling him Pornstache for the duration of this recap.
Koenig says he’s going to recheck the nuclear waste site himself. He pauses, broods, looks off into the middle distance, broods again, and then ominously broods, “I’ll need two volunteers.” And yet, despite this much foreshadowing, nothing bad is about to happen to the two guys who volunteer.
Hey, it’s an exterior shot. An Eagle is cruising above Area One. Inside the shuttle, Koenig and Bergman complain that they asked to go to Area Two. The pilot, Collins, tells them that they’re just using the navigation beacon at Area One as a waypoint. You see, navigation on the moon is a lot like finding the auto parts store. You have to take a right at where the Denny’s used to be.
We learn that Area One, which looks remarkably like a series of molehills, is where they dumped a whole bunch of nuclear waste five years ago.
Koenig asks if it’s been used since he left. Shouldn’t he know that? He’s the commander of the entire moon. I realize he just got there, but what was he doing yesterday? Updating his MySpace page? [Edited to add: I guess not, because MySpace wasn’t founded until four years later. Uncle Remus, this show took place a long time ago.]
In the cockpit, Collins’ eye twitches. And then they cut to commercial. That’s what happens: his eye twitches, and we go to break. The Yule log has better act breaks than this episode.